MP calls out ‘illegal chop-shops’

Southern Downs MP James Lister called out the illegal tobacconists in his electorate amid a fiery debate in state parliament last week. Pictures: AAP/QLD PARLIAMENT

By Jeremy Cook

Southern Downs MP James Lister has lashed out at Queensland Health in claims the department is failing to crackdown on illegal vape shops.

“These have been trading openly,” Mr Lister said.

“The people in my electorate cannot fail to find them, yet apparently the Queensland Health inspectors are unable to crack down on these places.

“It is a disgrace.”

The comments were made amid a fiery parliamentary debate last Wednesday in which the Southern Downs MP was asked to leave the chamber.

The parliament had been debating the findings of last year’s vaping inquiry which made a suite of recommendations including measures to restrict the illegal retail supply of e-cigarettes.

Mr Lister said he had compiled a list of “illegal chop shops“ in his electorate which he proceeded to name. The list included four tobacconists in Warwick and Stanthorpe.

“There may have been even more spring up in the time since I compiled this list,” he said.

“The proceeds of these businesses are used to invest in other illegitimate businesses; organised crime.

“I say this to Queensland Health, the minister who is responsible and this government: they should get themselves in order and start cracking down on these practices instead of talking about it.”

Mr Lister was later told to leave for an hour after interrupting Greenslopes MP Joe Kelly’s response.

The debate comes after several years of federal and state attempts to reduce Australia’s growing nicotine use, particularly among children.

Since October 2021, Australians have required a doctor’s prescription to lawfully buy vapes containing nicotine.

Despite this, the proportion of Australians using vapes and e-cigarettes tripled in the four years to 2023, a federal drug strategy household survey found.

The same survey found 49 per cent of Australians aged 18 to 24, and 28 per cent of children aged 14 to 17 had used vapes in their lifetime.

In response to the 14 recommendations made by last year’s state inquiry, then-Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced a cash boost of $28.4 million to be spent on anti-vaping initiatives over the next five years.

This included $2 million this financial year and then $5 million annually to support health authorities in cracking down on illegal vape sales.

A spokeswoman for Darling Downs Health said public health inspectors had identified eight suspected illicit tobacco retailers in the Southern Downs since July 2023.

“The Darling Downs Public Health Unit has a responsibility, in the interest of public safety, to undertake proactive and targeted responses to breaches of smoking products laws, including vapes,” the spokeswoman said.

“The process of inspection is undertaken with a consistent, formalised and legislated approach which applies to all public health units across Queensland.”